"Are You a N****r or a Doctor?"

A Memoir

Non-Fiction - Memoir
286 Pages
Reviewed on 04/18/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Carmen Tenorio for Readers' Favorite

"Are You a N****r or a Doctor?" is about the first 39 years of the life of a retired anesthesiologist, Dr. Otto Stallworth. He was born, raised, and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, with his stories spanning at least three decades. His tale started during the notorious Jim Crow era from the 1940s and up to the 1970s as he navigated and dealt with society and the world as an audacious young professional, with ethnicity an unavoidable aspect that inevitably left an impact on so many aspects of his life. From wondering how water from a Whites Only drinking fountain tasted like when he was a child, to crossing the state line to attend Howard University, to being a successful manager of a history-making and Grammy award-winning group, up until his work as Chief of Anesthesia in Hawthorne, California, the memoir is a series of memorable and poignant personal stories. Readers are introduced to his reminiscences of his family, childhood, friendships, relationships, education, medical career, travels, and businesses, especially seen from the standpoint of someone whose horizons have widened as he left his birthplace seeking better opportunities and a good life as a black American from the south.

Dr. Otto Stallworth's life shows how the personal is political, where one's own story is a part of history because this shaped his life experiences and opportunities as a child and adult both before and after the total abolition of segregation in 1964. Desegregation did improve his chances when he graduated from college and med school, when opportunities for further training, sound business endeavors, and good medical practice have since been more available and were added to his biodata. However, progress in gaining acceptance was slow. This memoir affords us the opportunity to view the world from the different and less common perspective of a black person as opposed to a mainstream perspective that uses the lens of somebody who's fair-skinned or white.

The author's clear and eloquent writing also makes it quite a worthy read that's insightful, even entertaining, and occasionally humorous. This book helps us broaden our understanding of possibilities and achieving the possible, and it even shows us his way of getting out of a rut when our very human side starts to give up as we cope with life's adversities. Especially recommended for those who enjoy well-written memoirs of people who have survived, succeeded, and beaten the odds against growing up in a society that can sometimes be too abrasive and judgmental because of skin color.

K.C. Finn

"Are You a N****r or a Doctor?" A Memoir is a work of non-fiction in the autobiographical writing, cultural issues, and memoir subgenres. It is best suited to the general adult reading audience and was penned by Otto E. Stallworth Jr., MD, MBA. As the title suggests, the work follows the early life of the author in his struggle and triumph in becoming a doctor during a difficult and tumultuous time in the racial history of the United States. Raised in the deeply divided and segregated city of Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. Stallworth attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., recounting many different stories from those times about the attitudes of others, family ties, his achievements, and traumas.

Otto E. Stallworth Jr. delivers a sublime memoir that pinpoints key turning points in not just his own life, but the history of America and its deep racial and class-based tensions, with startling accuracy and poignancy. It is incredible to witness history shifting through the eyes of someone who did amazing things despite the weight of opinion claiming that he couldn’t. The narrative style is both critical and endearing, like the words of a learned friend. Living through that era, let alone being a man of medicine, was a startling eye-opener to those of us not around at the time. I was also touched by the personal anecdotes that the author shared about universal human experiences like love, loss, fear, and triumph. I would not hesitate to recommend "Are You a N****r or a Doctor?" to memoir and social history readers everywhere.

Juan Lynch

"Are You a N****r or a Doctor?" by Dr. Otto E. Stallworth is the first book in a two-part memoir. Having grown up in Alabama during a time when segregation laws were still heavily enforced, it is no surprise that racism is a significant theme in this book. Additionally, Stallworth was affected by his parents’ marital issues. He confesses as such and correlates it to some of his own failed marriages. Despite his adversities, Sunny, as Otto was affectionately called by his mom, was able to shine brightly in the medical field. He even dabbled in the music and film industry for a bit. His rich pool of experiences and the diverse characters he has met over the first part of his life makes this an intriguing read.

I enjoyed many aspects of "Are You a N****r or a Doctor?"The writing style has an appealing conversational tone that drew me in. For example, the dialogues were very realistic. In keeping with the memoir genre, Stallworth shares the good, the bad, and the ugly. Moreover, I was intrigued by the colorful cast of friends and acquaintances that he has had over the years. The chapters involving Kooper James, the king of prostitution, were enthralling. The only thing I did not like was the betrayal of my expectation of a chronological recounting of Stallworth’s life. For example, knowing that he would have four failed marriages early on detracted from the suspense of future chapters. Overall, however, this is a well-written thought-provoking memoir.

Jessica Barbosa

"Are You a N****r or a Doctor?" is part one of a memoir by Otto E. Stallworth Jr., MD, MBA. The author is an African-American who buried his past in his subconscious. Read the ups and downs he experienced during his lifetime. Learn about the relationships he forged through the years, his many accomplishments, and the challenges that came with living from the 1940s onwards. Find yourself immersed in his retelling of the past and his journey to becoming the person he is today.

Stallworth reflects on his past with his emotionally charged memoir "Are You a N****r or a Doctor?" This book brought the past to life through his enthralling and vivid narration. The memoir offers a unique perspective into his life during a time when discrimination and racial segregation were the norms. Stallworth has an exceptional story to tell. Reading his detailed account made me feel that I had been transported into the past with him. The pictures added to the visual appeal. Stallworth wrote about his fond childhood memories, conversations, and familiar places with good humor.

There were also bleak periods like the death of a loved one and a time that he realized he might need psychiatric help. An incident when he questioned the unfairness and injustice of God when he witnessed the death of a good man while cruel men were allowed to live resonated with me. This work is emotional, powerful, and thought-provoking. I admire Stallworth’s tenacity and hard work. The stories he told are heartfelt and I could not put the book down. This is the first part of Otto E. Stallworth’s memoir and I can’t wait for the next installment.

Foluso Falaye

In "Are You a N****r or a Doctor?" Otto E. Stallworth Jr. M.D. M.B.A. shares previously untold tales from his rich, distinctive, and varied life experiences, starting in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1940s. His childhood years with friends and neighbors were filled with dangerous adventures and narrow escapes. During this time, he became aware of several quirks and societal limits relating to race, like when he discovered a white-only water fountain and wanted to compare its flavor to colored water. Stallworth Jr. also recounts his student experiences at Howard University in Washington. There he went through partying, substance abuse, and different recreational activities with friends before getting serious about his academic ambitions. Other major topics in the story include falling in love, losing loved ones, and working as a doctor.

Otto E. Stallworth Jr. uses precise and vivid words to portray his reactions, feelings, and observations. I felt I was sharing his experiences rather than simply reading about them. I could sense his exhilaration when he talked about being entranced by a woman's smile and his worry when making a crucial decision while impaired. Stallworth Jr. is a fantastic storyteller and provides insightful observations on historical and racial issues, such as the decades-long exploitation of black males with syphilis. "Are You a N****r or a Doctor?" is an emotional roller coaster that takes you from heartbreaking losses and suicidal thoughts to falling in love, wild partying, and gory surgery. I appreciated it, learned from it, and could hardly put it down. This tale is a great read.